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Who Moved the DNS Cheese? Auditing for AD-Integrated DNS Zone and Record Deletions
Published Sep 20 2018 12:31 AM 11.5K Views

First published on TechNet on Oct 12, 2013

Something just happened. Something big. The wheels are falling off the enterprise. People can't log in. "The XYZ domain is not available. Please try again later." Outlook is endlessly prompting folks for credentials. No one can print. Many can't even get an IP address. Mission-critical apps are erroring out left and right. The Helpdesk phone tree is lit up like a Christmas tree. People whose title starts with "C" are briskly walking the floor, asking questions. Desk and cell phones are ringing all over the place. Stomachs are turning. Throats are tightening up, especially for one person in particular (but who?).

The "meter is running" but no one is going anywhere….business is down.

After some craziness and high-stress troubleshooting, it turns out someone deleted the main, internal corporate DNS zone. An authoritative restore was done on the zone and things returned to normal but the outage lasted for several hours and $$$ revenue and productivity were lost. The reputation of IT took a hit but we're glad we had viable and tested AD backups and recovery plans (do you? If not, go here for some tips and get started!):


Now, people want answers. W hat happened? W ho did it? W hen did it happen? W hy did it happen?

  • Note - No amount of Windows auditing can answer the 'why' – that's on you, your management and possibly even the authorities.


Sound familiar? Luckily, this was a fictional situation - but based on true stories. If you've followed this blog or gone Internet searching for auditing in Windows, you've likely seen the posts here and elsewhere about auditing AD for OU, GPO and other AD deletions, file and folder edits and possibly failed user logons. DNS auditing is much less frequently covered. Even in my prior post, I didn't delve into DNS auditing.


We know how critical DNS is to AD, and how critical AD is to the enterprise. So let's get proactive and configure some settings to help ensure we are positioned to answer those "W" questions for DNS.

Once the word gets out that 'we're watching AD changes like a hawk,' we often see a drastic reduction in something I refer to as 'casual administration.' Casual administration is when well-intentioned admins start poking around MMC consoles, tinkering. No change-control requests or communications have gone out. This is just someone trying make things better without making any ripples, implementing seemingly minor changes. Or, perhaps it was an attempt to clean-up DNS, troubleshoot an AD replication error or someone following along on an Internet blog post without testing it in a lab first.

My co-conspirators in this endeavor, BrentW and Bryan Zink, thought to parlay our discussions around this critical proactive effort into a blog post to present an auditing solution for DNS data.

Before we start, you should review my prior post for a primer into AD auditing, some very important caveats and a bit more depth, then come right back…


Okay, picking up from there…

For AD-integrated DNS changes, we actually audit AD objects and recall that AD auditing is a two-step process:

Step 1 – Configure the desired/correct 'Audit Policy' on the DCs

Step 2 – Turn on the appropriate auditing settings on the target object(s)


Step 1: The configuration for the Audit Policy on the Domain Controllers for this effort is shown in the screenshots below:

    • The settings listed are the minimum required for what is needed to capture the DNS changes discussed in this post, however, additional auditing for other AD changes should be strongly considered (as discussed in the above blog post) and tested/verified in a lab prior to rolling anything out to production.






Step 2 – Configure auditing on the target object(s).

  • Drill down to the Auditing properties page of the proper container(s), depending on where the zones/records lives in AD
    • To audit zones in the legacy domain partition
      • cn=microsoftdns,dc=system,dc=domain,dc=lab
    • To audit zones in the domain-wide application partition
      • cn=microsoftdns,dc=domaindnszones,dc=domain,dc=lab
    • To audit zones in the forest-wide application partition
      • cn=microsoftdns,dc=forestdnszones,dc=domain,dc=lab



      • Add audit entries to the SACL


Zone creation

See the screenshots below for the audit settings for zone creation:

  • Specific audit settings for Zone creation
    • Principal = Everyone
      • Type = Success
        • Applies to = This object and all descendent objects
          • Access = Permissions
            • "Create dnsZone objects"



NOTE: Due to the way DNS deletions are processed in AD, if we enable auditing for "Delete dnsZone objects" here, we won't see Zone deletions in the logs. We'll cover deletions in a minute.


See the bottom of this post for the unique details about DNS deletions from AD-integrated DNS.



After we setup the auditing, if someone creates a zone, we'll capture the details.

  • Below is a screen shot of an audit event from a zone creation :
    • Security Event Log
    • Event ID 5137 – A directory service object was created.
  • We see who created the zone, the details of the zone that was created and when it was created.




Zone deletion

See the screenshots below for the audit settings for zone deletion:

  • Specific audit settings for Zone deletion
    • Principal = Everyone
      • Type = Success
        • Applies to = Descendent dnsZone Objects
          • Access = Permissions
            • "Delete"

  • Here is a screen shot of an audit event from a zone deletion
    • Security Event Log
    • Event ID 5141 – A directory service object was deleted.
    • When an AD-integrated DNS zone gets deleted, the DN attribute gets pre-pended with ..Deleted-
      • This nugget can help you in searching logs or setting up SCOM Alerts/Rules
  • We see who deleted the zone, the details of the zone that was deleted and when it was deleted:



Record deletion

To audit for DNS record deletions, you should target the desired critical record objects. If you set this auditing up on all records, due to the churn of DHCP and DynamicDNS, you'll likely have a lot of Event Log volume and noise.

  • Continue to use ADSIEdit rather than the DNS UI for setting the auditing
  • Drill down to the target record, then right click it > Properties > Security tab > Advanced button > Auditing tab
    • Specific audit settings for record deletion

      For Deletions via the DNS UI/tools:

      Principal = Everyone

      • Type = Success
        • Access = Properties
          • "Write dNSTombstoned"

      For deletions via ADSIEdit:

    Principal = Everyone

    • Type = Success
      • Access = Permissions
        • "Delete"


    • Why two very different audit entries? What does this mean?
      • Since DNS record deletions via the DNS UI are not actual AD object deletions, we audit for changes written to the 'dNSTombstoned' attribute
      • Since DNS record deletions via ADSIEdit are true, simple AD object deletions,, we audit for delete events


  • Here is a screen shot of an audit event from a record deletion via the DNS tools
    • Security Event Log
    • Event ID 5136 – A directory service object was modified .
    • Key off of:
      • Class: dnsNode
      • Attribute - LDAP Display Name "dNSTombstoned"
      • Attribute - Value: "Value: TRUE"
      • Operation Type: "Value added"
    • The attribute view from ADSIEdit shows the 'dnsTombstoned' value = TRUE
      • It's not seen in the screenshot but the attribute 'isDeleted' value is 'not set' – recall this record hasn't actually been deleted out of AD yet



Here is a screen shot of an audit event from a record deletion via ADSIEdit

  • Security Event Log
  • Event ID 5141 – A directory service object was deleted .


The unique nature of AD-integrated DNS deletions.

When a 'typical' AD object is logically deleted, most of the attribute values are blanked out and it is 'moved' into the deletedObjects container.  These changes are replicated across the DCs and then later, when garbage collection happens on each DC, the object is 'physically' deleted from the local AD DB.

DNS is a bit different, though.


When an AD-integrated DNS record is deleted via DNS tools, the AD object is not actually deleted from Active Directory (like a normal AD object). Instead, the dnsTombstoned attribute is set to TRUE on the object, and the record is removed from the in-memory cache of the DNS server and hidden from the MMC UI (you can still see it in ADSIEdit, though). Every day, at 2 AM, a DNS thread spins up and all records that are dnsTombstoned=TRUE and have been that way for 7 days are deleted from AD (like a normal AD object).

  • If a DNS record is deleted via ADSIEdit, the above process/details are different – an ADSIEdit deletion is seen as a typical AD object deletion
  • The auditing steps above will capture/log an ADSIEdit deletion of a DNS record, as well as a deletion done via DNS tools such as the UI, DNSCMD, etc.


AD-integrated zones , on the other hand, behave like any other AD object when deleted. Most attributes are stripped off, and the zone object is moved to the deletedObjects container. Any DNS records within the zone are also deleted at this time, rather than going through the dnsTombstoned process.


For more in-depth info on DNS deletion and scavenging, see these great posts:


So now you can answer the W questions for DNS disasters … but wouldn't it be nice if we never were asked those questions to begin with?


Until then, Happy Columbus Day from Hilde, Brent Whitlow and Bryan Zink :)

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‎Feb 19 2020 08:09 PM
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